In 2019, the Events Industry Council, a global group of over 30 international organizations involved in the meetings, conventions, and exhibitions industry, released four key principles designed to encourage meetings and events professionals to utilize sustainable practices. Many of these are being concurrently employed by hotel and event venues across the world in efforts to reduce the environmental footprint of meetings and events traffic.
While in Europe, the importance of reducing, reusing, and recycling is embedding itself into society, it has been suggested that in Asia the practice is less common; with only large hotels chains driving awareness. Similarly, in North America national politics and government have made the widespread adoption of sustainable practices challenging, however many independent hotels and venues have made strides to reduce their environmental impact through a variety of creative practices. Meanwhile, Latin American and Caribbean nations have been steadily increasing their sustainability efforts particularly in the development of eco-friendly resorts and alternative uses of energy to supply their operation.
We’ve taken several hotels and venues across these regions to highlight the ways they are leading the industry by reducing their environmental impact, giving back to their local communities, and practicing sustainable business while catering to a growing meetings and events audience.
Factors of an Eco-Friendly Event Venue
Across the globe, the standard first step in ‘going green’ is substituting single use plastics with materials that are reusable or biodegradable. For example, the Dusit Thani Resort in the Maldives and the Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort in Fiji have banned the use of plastic straws, replacing them with a fully compostable bamboo option. Additionally, the Tenerife’s GF Hotels group have stopped using plastic bottles, switching instead to aluminum.
UK exhibition venue, Olympia London, has taken a similar approach on a larger scale. Bamboo cutlery and Vegware plates that fully compost within 8 weeks are being used at exhibitions. In addition, they produce bespoke waste segregation reports for individual events. For example, at the European Coffee Expo, segregation bins were displayed along with educational pieces detailing the recycling journey of different waste materials. This not only helps to highlight the importance of recycling to the customer and attendees but, has helped Olympia London reach a 98% recycle rate.
Similarly, in North and Latin America, many chain and boutique hotels are making the switch from single-use plastics to green alternatives. In Costa Rica, the Lapa Rios Resort—a luxury eco-resort nested on over 1,000 acres of protected rainforest—has banned all single-use plastics from their property. The resort also made the decision to ban single-use plastic bottles and replaced them with reusable glass alternatives that can then be efficiently integrated into their waste separation and recycling program.
Just east of Costa Rica, in the Caribbean Sea, are the quiet islands of St. Kitts & Nevis. Situated in Oualie Bay on the island of Nevis is the Oualie Beach Resort. This small, family-owned hotel venue prides itself on being able to sustain eco-friendly practices on their property. The resort has switched to utilizing biodegradable t-shirt bags, takeaway containers, cups, and cutlery as an alternative to traditional plastics. It's also found a creative way to reuse old glass bottles by re-purposing them as ashtrays or glasses for smoothies and cocktails at their bar and restaurant.
In North America, Marriott International has made the global decision to begin eliminating plastic straws from over 450 hotels in their chain. They also made a bold move to require all hotels in North America to replace the individual bathroom amenity bottles with in-shower dispensers. This one change will result in the elimination of 34.5 million bottles and 356,000 pounds of plastic waste in an average year.
Another way of reducing waste impact is by increasing efficiency. One way this is being tackled by hotels is through innovative structural design. The Jean-Michel Cousteau resort in Fiji does not have air conditioning. Guest accommodations are modeled after traditional Fijian bures (wood and straw huts) with sustainably sourced timber. The buildings have high vaulted ceilings, screened windows and are interspersed within shady tropical foliage which enables them to stay cool in the summer heat. There is no glass, and bamboo screening is used instead of electric bathroom ventilation. Re-purposing traditional design has allowed this resort to significantly cut back on its electricity consumption. Coupled with the installation of solar powered water heaters, the installation of LED lights, and low flow shower heads, these initiatives are helping to minimize usage on all fronts.
Tenerife’s GF Hotels chain is implementing similar tactics. Their Victoria Hotel has been designed for energy efficiency by using specific building materials designed to offer greater insulation against the summer heat. A rooftop garden helps to minimize heat absorption and reduce the need for air conditioning. In their Gran Costa Adeje, saline electrolysis has been introduced which allows fewer chemical products to be used to clean the swimming pools, and different meters can be monitored simultaneously, lowering overall electricity consumption.
In Bengaluru, India, the ITC Gardenia stands as one of the most energy efficient hotels in the industry and boasts a Platinum LEED rating. This luxury hotel consumes 40% less energy than any other large luxury hotel in the world due to having its own self-owned wind farm—the largest of any hotel for captive consumption—to fulfill all of the hotel’s energy needs. They have achieved water-positive status by replenishing more water than they use, filter black and grey water for future use, and recycle more than more than 99% of their solid waste. To top everything off, more than 80% of the space has access to natural light and 60% of the trees in the area prior to construction were protected from destruction while any that were uprooted were carefully transplanted to reduce impact on the ecosystem.
Situated in the Torres del Paine National Park in Chile is the world’s first dome hotel, EcoCamp Patagonia. This resort has won numerous awards and has been featured in a variety of magazines for its innovative practices and structural design. Guests at EcoCamp Patagonia will find their accommodations in the shape of geodesic domes built on wooden platforms, reducing their impact on the soil below and leaving no human footprint if they are relocated or removed. They are lined with a polyester fiber that assists with natural insulation during cooler months and are equipped with skylight windows to allow for lots of natural light and heat without utilizing electricity during the brighter hours of the day. The restrooms are equipped with composting toilets that properly divert waste to composting centers or the water filtration system. Soiled water is then taken through a complex system that purifies it to a level that allows it to be safely reintegrated with the natural stream and rivers that flow through the area.
In Denver, Colorado, the Denver Museum of Contemporary Art has also taken significant strides in maximizing energy efficiency through the redesign of gold certified LEED building. About 50% of the building’s exterior wall is made of a double skin facade consisting of a tinted glass curtain wall and a honeycomb-like recycled composite material called Monopan. The facade serves to both filter and let in a tremendous amount of ambient light—reducing the need for artificial light during the day. The museum’s mechanical system was designed to integrate with the building’s facade to maximize climate control. The system uses 100% outdoor air while in cooling mode and a radiant floor system to deliver heat to the building’s perimeter which economizes the distribution of energy and helps to maintain a comfortable internal temperature. All construction materials, furniture, fixtures, and equipment utilized in building the museum are composed of more than 20% recycled material. Additionally, the rooftop garden helps to naturally cool the museum’s interior, increase urban green space, and absorb rainfall to reduce urban runoff that could collect pollutants in the sewers.
By thinking smart, it is possible for hotels and venues to minimize their waste and improve their green credentials.
Utilizing resources from the local environment and giving back is another way venues are becoming more sustainable. The Jean-Michel resort has an organic onsite garden that is fertilized with food waste from the kitchens. They can grow 20% of the fresh fruit, vegetables, and herbs that they need in their restaurants, as well as medicinal and edible flowers, interspersed with native plant species. This helps create a biodiverse environment and reduces the amount of food that must be transported to the island, therefore reducing the total CO2 emissions.
Olympia London's catering partners have strong sustainability credentials and all food waste separated at the venue is sent to an anaerobic digestion plant that turns the waste into green energy and fertiliser for farmers. Other hotels have taken composting initiatives a step further. The Dusit Thani hotel in the Maldives have purchased a composting machine. It allows them to transfer 85% of their waste food into nutrient rich compost within 24 hours. This is then used to fertilize the chef’s garden, nourishing some of the island’s natural vegetation.
In San Francisco, the Moscone Convention Center has begun tackling food sustainability through utilizing their exclusive catering company SAVOR for events. SAVOR has a food composting program that captures all organic material from food service operations to prevent organic waste from being sent to a landfill. The company also only uses compostable food serve ware such as cutlery, cups, and plates to minimize the use of single-use plastics. Following events, they donate all unused or excess food, fresh produce, and boxed lunches to various San Francisco non-profits to both benefit the community and reduce their waste production.
The Lapa Rios Resort in Costa Rica utilizes locally sourced ingredients from the community in their kitchen. Their “Dock to Dish” sustainable fishing program supports local fishermen and brings sustainably wild caught seafood to their tables, while all of the resort’s cows and chickens are free-range and grass fed to ensure quality of the meat. The resort’s staff are also learning how to grow vegetables and herbs in the surrounding forest. Although they don’t grow enough produce to supply their kitchens, they actively share any successes and knowledge with the locals so they can also attempt to grow sustainable food in the forest.
Further north in Canada, the InterContinental Montreal launched its “Chef’s Garden”. This rooftop garden project directly links cuisine to their green initiative. The garden is outfitted with 50 planter boxes for organically grown vegetables and herbs that are used in the hotel’s Osco! Restaurant. Osco! was the first restaurant in Quebec to be awarded the Green Restaurant Certification.
Outside of kitchen gardens, venues are starting projects that are directly improving their local ecosystems. The Good Hotel London floats on the River Thames and has invested in a Seabin; a device that floats just below the surface of the water filtering and collecting rubbish which is then harvested and responsibly recycled. By attaching the Seabin to their floating hotel, they are contributing to the global effort to clean up earth’s waterways and oceans. There are 686 sea bins situated in harbors and marinas globally, which to date have retrieved 55,533kg of plastic waste.
More localized projects are also underway, the Jean-Michel resort invites their guests to get involved with their ‘Giant Clam hatching’ and ‘mangrove reforestation’ programs, which aim to return these local species and habitats to prosperity. Additionally, in 2013 they set up a coral farm to help replace coral that is lost through bleaching and coastal storms to increase biodiversity. Similarly, the Rosewood Hotel Phuket repurposes wood and concrete piles from old houses into pavers and coral reef domes. The Rosewood Phuket is also attempting to control erosion through bio swales and water retention ponds that help protect the ocean and marine life from storm water runoff.
Following a similar trend in maintaining our planet’s aquatic ecosystems, Caribbean countries lead the way in sustainable actions that are helping to save our reefs, oceans, and the diverse life that inhabits them. In the Bahamas, the Atlantis Paradise Island helped establish the Atlantis Blue Project in 2007. This project is dedicated to funding scientific research, conservation programs, and community outreach initiatives that help preserve the regions unique marine ecosystems. Coral research, nursery maintenance, and re-planting is conducted to maintain and regenerate the reefs surrounding the Bahamas. Specialized teams also work to track and research marine mammals such as manatees and dolphins to develop clearer images of conservation needs for these species, and the resort participates in breeding and releasing sea turtle hatchlings to help re-stabilize the wild populations.
On the Caribbean island of Bonaire, local tour operator VIP Diving takes the conservation of the natural environment very seriously. They offer programs to help curb the invasive and growing lionfish populations in the reef by educating and teaching guests proper hunting techniques and then taking them on supervised trips to reduce the population. VIP Diving also participates in the Adopt-A-Nest program of the Sea Turtle Conservation of Bonaire (STCB) and help relocate nests in danger of drowning, rescue newborn turtles trapped in roots, and collect data that helps better protect the nests. Divers find waste in the water and remove it to help prevent sea turtle entanglement and they also sell STCB gear in the gift shop and donate the proceeds directly back into the program.
While many of these practices are currently more localized than the common place solutions of plastic reduction, these sustainable initiatives show the possibilities for conservation within the meetings and events industry going forward.
While green initiatives are normally the first to spring to mind, venues are also looking to support sustainability in local communities. In Europe the Good Hotel London is a brilliant example of this. Their ethos is ‘do good sleep good’, all profits made are funneled into two home grown initiatives. The Good Global Foundation will provide one week’s worth of schooling for a child for every night stayed in their hotel. Their sister program, The Good Hotel School has a more direct focus on the community near their individual hotels. This initiative is a paid internship for the long term unemployed, who regardless of their background, need a fresh start. After completing the in-house training program, every student has the chance to work full time at the Good Hotel or with one of their chosen partners. So far, The Good Hotel School has trained over 300 people, with 70% now still in full time employment.
Olympia London also works within their local community to improve the lives of those around them. Alongside other causes, they have partnered with the Barons Court Project, a day center that supports homeless and vulnerable adults. The partnership facilitated redecoration of the center with new lighting, installation of a new toilet and construction of storage for donated clothing. Donated furniture is stored at Olympia London and delivered to newly-housed service users. A volunteering scheme allows members of staff to donate one day per year to charitable causes. Christmas lunches were served to service users at Barons Court Project by Olympia London staff, whilst others spent a day gardening at a local cancer center.
In North America, the Ace Hotel in Chicago integrated social responsibility and sustainability into their hotel launch. The brand is known for consistently partnering with community organizations to develop positive relationships with the communities they touch. At the Ace Hotel Chicago, 10% of each reservation made before the hotel’s opening was donated to three Chicago youth programs. The hotel partnered with organizations dedicated to empowering disadvantaged youth through arts and literature. Little Black Pearl, Young Chicago Authors, and 826CHI received over $30,000 in donations upon the hotel’s opening.
In the Caribbean, the Curtain Bluff Resort in Antigua established the Old Road Fund, a non-profit organization that aimed to provide basic necessities to families in need. Today, over one million dollars has been spent on a variety of community-centric initiatives. From establishing scholarships for over 45 children to attend universities in the United States, to donating computers to the Old Road Primary School and providing new equipment and uniforms for the village soccer and cricket teams. These global entities are proving that it is possible to be successful and funnel back this success into the local community.
As travel in the meetings and events industry continues to grow so does the industry’s need for sustainability. Attendees are becoming more conscious of green practices during their travels and in turn, businesses that touch the industry have become more aware of their global footprint, choosing to implement innovative practices to increase their sustainability credentials. Whether they are impacting their local communities, or a shared ecosystem, hotel and tourism venues are successfully satisfying attendees while making strides to save the planet and demonstrating that sustainability and profitability can—and should—go hand in hand.